Originally published Thursday, 20 February 2014.
This blog post first appeared over at www.allisonvesterfelt.com - you can read more about Allison there!
When I first started dating my husband, I was pretty hesitant.
He was strong and confident and so sweet in the way he approached me—everything I had been hoping for in a man—but I had just come out of a relationship that had ended unexpectedly, and I was left spinning.
Photo Credit: Oleh Slobodeniuk, Creative Commons
To make matters worse, this wasn’t the first time I’d had a relationship go up in flames. Not by a long shot.
I was beginning to think it was all my fault.
So when Darrell came along, even though he seemed to be everything I had wanted but never been able to find, I decided pretty early on it wasn’t going to work. We talked on the phone for a few weeks. He was in Minneapolis, I was in Portland. I was grateful for the distance, honestly, because I was pretty sure how this would end.
I couldn’t allow it to go on for too long.
So one day, when I could sense things were starting to get serious, I sent an e-mail. It was a long e-mail, and it listed all the reasons I knew he should move on. I told him about past relationships and past mistakes and listed all the things that could possibly happen to him if he stuck around. (Every guy’s dream e-mail, right?)
I hovered over the “send” button for a good couple of minutes before I pulled the trigger, then I did it. “This is it,” I told myself.
But I never could have expected what happened next.
About five minutes after the e-mail sent, my phone rang, and it was Darrell. I picked up, and prepared myself. But instead of agreeing with me, or telling me how weird it was to send an e-mail like that, he said: “Thank you for sharing so honestly with me. But you know what? I don’t know that girl.”
I don’t know that girl.
What did that even mean?
We only could talk for a few minutes right in that moment because he had to get back to work, but later he called and we talked for longer. He explained how, although those things (the mistakes, the failures, the immaturity, the bad choices) were a part of my past, they didn’t need to be a part of my present, or my future.
He was just meeting me now. He was meeting me today.
“Maybe it’s a gift,” he suggested. “Maybe it’s an opportunity to start over.”
And suddenly I realized he was right.
For so long I had been trying to “make peace” with my past—to come up with an explanation for why it had happened (which I usually assumed was some kind of defect in me) and to eradicate the problem by “fixing” what was wrong. But Darrell’s comment made me realize: I didn’t need to “make peace” with my past.
I needed to move on from it.
Maybe, in some ways, those are the same things, but to me, they felt completely different. “Making peace” with my past was about lingering on it, mulling over it, seeking approval (from myself and from others) in spite of it, obsessing over the details, again and again, until I could figure out an explanation.
Moving on was about choosing not to let it define me anymore.
Making peace was about working tirelessly to find some elusive sense of rest and quiet (what a dichotomy, right?). Moving on was about resting in the knowledge that my life was not over, that I was not an accident, that I move forward to create something beautiful and new.
And when I did that—when I stopped letting my past define me—I was able to see how Darrell was right.
I wasn’t the girl who did those things, or said those things, or made those choices, back then. I was someone totally different. I was brand new.
This wasn’t the last time I found myself trying to “make peace” with my past.
Every once and while I still I catch myself begging for explanations, or for justification, or wallowing in my own self-pity or guilt. Every so often I find myself holding grudges against others, or holding grudges against myself.
But each time that happens I try to remind myself of what my soon-to-be husband taught me that day, over an e-mail that didn’t even need to be sent.
My past doesn’t define my future. I don’t need make peace with it.
I need to put it to rest.